As children, we make sense of the world through stories. They allow us to explore the world in a safe context, set up frameworks of meaning, provide structures that we can understand, and characters through which we learn.
As adults, we tend to push such trivial matters aside. Fact, not fiction, is deemed important and so the stories that were once so central to our lives are made redundant. However, as you will know from the podcast with Anita Johnson, story and metaphor remain hugely valuable to us and offer a lens for growth.
Here are five stories that can help those in eating disorder recovery as inspiration, guidance, and hope.
Oh The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss
I was a latecomer to Dr Seuss and first came across this motivational rhyme on an eating disorder recovery ward. The bright colors and funny rhymes have a soothing quality and humorous bent. Eating disorders are very much ‘games you can’t win, ’cause you’ll play against you’ but we can all overcome them. It reminded me that there will be struggles and stumbles, but within me, I have the power to ‘move mountains.’ It takes power and focus, and a hell of a lot of work, but ‘You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.’ Choose to walk towards recovery.
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
‘Feeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place. Just for the time being. So she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck. And that seemed to fix things … at first.’ But, just like with eating disorders, this didn’t work. The little girl soon finds out that locking away the pain also locks away her capacity for love and aliveness. ‘She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea. She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…’ What keeps us ‘safe’ can also hurt us in the long run. We have to be open to feeling all the feelings, and only then can we grow. Eating disorders are like being locked away and shut down. Recovery means opening up.
We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
For so long I knew where I was – sick – and where I wanted to be – recovered and healthy. But like many people who find themselves with eating disorders, I was used to finding most tasks that I set myself pretty easy, and wasn’t prepared to put in the hard, messy work to get there. Recovery is tough. But despite the swampy, muddy, boggy terrain of the recovery process, in order to reach a place of being happy, healthy and living to the full, there is no choice but to take a deep breath and say ‘we’ve got to go through it.’
Two Wolves – An Old Cherokee Tale
In this Cherokee folk tale, a wise old man is telling his grandson about the battles that rage within human beings. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old man simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’
With some more literal connotations than other tales, this one reminds us that the voice we listen to – the eating disorder voice or the wise mind – will win out and rule our lives. When our attention, time and energy goes to recovery, it will happen.
Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I’ve written about Alice in Wonderland before, but still believe it to be a story dripping with inspirational and imaginative exploration of the human experience. Full of curiosity, exploring the world and herself, she finds herself in chaos but wonder as well. When she asks The Cheshire Cat ‘Where should I go?’ and he replies ‘That depends on where you want to end up.’ It’s a good reminder of the importance of visualizing where you see recovery taking you. It doesn’t have to be goal specific and achievement focused, but a feeling and sense of hope to hold on to. Because, in such a crazy mixed up world, things work out okay. In fact ‘Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.’
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